The Kettering Incident wants to be Twin Peaks so badly, you can almost taste it as you wade through the eight episodes of this Tasmanian series. Here we have a story that opens with the death of a girl, and has something strange happening in the woods in a town full of secrets that the death uncovers. In case you don’t get the point, it even uses the “it’s happening again” line more than once, and mysterious owls pop up along the way. It’s unusual to see a Peaks imitator this far down the line, though the forthcoming third season might have been the motivating factor here. And, because ‘Twin Peaks Meets The Bridge’ probably sounds a good sell to TV executives, we also have Scandi Noir atmospherics mixed in, complete with a rather desperately quirky and damaged lead character. Oh, and a bit of The X-Files as well.
If all this sounds potentially interesting, then too bad. The Kettering Incident is a plodding, contrived affair, packed with one-dimensional, clichéd characters, a lead who is entirely unappealing, a murder mystery that you simply won’t care about (because of the one-dimensional, clichéd characters) and elements of ‘weirdness’ that seem only slightly less plausible that the supposedly realistic stream of nonsense that we have to wade through before the mystery is revealed and our questions answered. Except, wait – this is a TV series with ambitions of a second series (ambitions that look increasingly likely to be unfulfilled), so we don’t even get the satisfaction of things being properly rounded up.
The series opens with Dr Anna Macey (Elizabeth Debicki) returning – somehow or other, the series doesn’t bother to explain how or why) to her home town of Kettering in Tasmania, where fourteen years earlier, her half-sister disappeared under mysterious circumstances that might involve UFOs or might involve sibling jealousy, or might involve both. In any case, none of the stereotypes in the town are especially pleased to see her back. When teenager Chloe (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) also vanishes during a rave party that she has taken Anna to (on her first day back in town, she’s already befriending local teens and heading out to take drugs in the woods – I think we are supposed to see this as edgy) and later turns up dead, the locals wonder if Anna’s appearance is just a coincidence, or if the events of the past are repeating themselves.
Within this thin idea – admittedly, no thinner than many an idea that excellent TV shows have been built on – the series explores the dark secrets of the townsfolk. There’s the arrogant, corrupt, drug-dealing cop who seemingly controls the town, assorted marital stress, battles between locals and green protesters (‘greenies’), and much talk of something having been buried in the forbidden zone of Mother Sullivan’s Ridge. And then there’s Anna, who the producers try to make quirky with a Saints T-shirt, but who spends her time moping, looking miserable and distressed in a very studied dramatic way, as she sort of investigates the strange happenings around the town. I say ‘sort of’, as most of the time she is just wandering around with furrowed brow but not doing very much. As a lead character, she’s not very interesting, and surprisingly unlikeable – a petulant teen in a grown woman’s body who the series is determinedly trying to make seem ‘cool’. How much of this is down to poor writing and how much down to Debicki is hard to tell (I haven’t seen her in anything else). I’m inclined to blame the writing, as pretty much everyone here is required to emote furiously in the popular mumblecore TV style, even as their thinly drawn and derivative characters fail to develop in any significant way. People do stupid things for no good reason – half the time, these stupid things don’t even further the plot, and when they do, they are so unconvincing that rather than being a startling revelation, they just make us snort at the narrative desperation. The thing with a murder mystery where we know all the suspects is that we have to care about which of them might actually be guilty. In this show, I genuinely couldn’t care less, because none of the characters seem remotely believable as human beings.
The sad thing is, there is potential here. Every now and again, there’s a line of dialogue, an impressive visual that suggests that this could be good. And it’s not that The Kettering Incident is not a handsomely mounted effort. But then, the days of TV from anywhere looking cheap and nasty are long ever – even British TV looks good today. Nice scenery, a minimalist, plaintive theme tune and touches of strangeness can only take you so far. It’s far enough to get gushing praise from TV critics desperate to find the next imported show for the chattering classes to discuss earnestly at dinner parties (The Kettering Incident makes the mistake of being in English, but you can’t have everything), and maybe that’s all that matters. But in truth, this is a show that is all mouth and trousers, with little substance and little to keep you hooked in even when presented in binge viewing DVD format. Had I not been reviewing, I doubt I would’ve stuck with this past three episodes, and I don’t think I would’ve been missing out on anything. In a world of great TV, this can comfortably stay low down your viewing schedule.